Ten European states sued over treaty protecting fossil fuels

Ten European states sued over treaty protecting fossil fuels

Five young people who consider themselves victims of climate change filed a lawsuit in the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday (June 21) against European states for leaving the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT) delay the ecological transition.

This first move to target the ECT’s role in delaying climate action comes ahead of a crucial meeting of the treaty’s 52 signatories this Friday (June 24), where member countries are expected to announce a political agreement to reform the charter, considered as ” obsolete “ by the EU.

“I saw whole parts of my life disappear because of the floods last year, neighborhoods were destroyed and four people lost their lives”said Damien, a 23-year-old Belgian national living in Chaudfontaine, a town badly affected by deadly floods in July 2021.

“The sound of water or rain makes me nervous. At the slightest downpour or news of similar disasters, fear returns. »

The five young people are suing Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom for breaching their obligations in human rights and observed a treaty which they say is incompatible with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

To support their arguments, they point out that the ECT gives fossil fuel companies the power to sue governments for billions of euros in compensation for their climate policies through private arbitration tribunals that are not democratically responsible.

The plaintiffs have all been exposed to natural disasters fueled by climate change.

Constant threat and uncertainty

Another plaintiff is Alexandros, a 21-year-old student from Greece who suffered two wildfires in July 2021 while spending his summer vacation at the family home in Athens.

“In 2018, a fire occurred 18 km from my home (in Mati) and killed 103 people”he recalls. “We are constantly under threat and in uncertainty about our future. I feel stress. Every time I see pine trees under the sun, I fear a fire”said Alexandros.

Their lawyer, Clementine Baldon, says the ECT has exposed governments to significant financial risk when taking climate action.

Last year, German energy giants RWE and Uniper filed separate lawsuits against the Netherlands seeking compensation for the country’s planned coal phase-out by 2030.

In either case, Dutch taxpayers could be left to foot the bill for the coal assets abandoned by these companies.

Signed in 1994 to protect cross-border energy investments, the ECT has come under growing criticism from environmental groups and governments who say it hampers countries’ efforts to eliminate progressively fossil fuels.

Treaty reform negotiations began in July 2020, with the European Commission negotiating on behalf of the 27 EU member states. But any modification of the ECT requires the unanimity of the 52 signatories of the charter, and the negotiations have made little progress so far.

Faced with the slow pace of talks, a growing number of European governments have shown signs of impatience and expressed doubts about the EU’s ability to fulfill its mandate of aligning the treaty with the Paris agreement on change climatic.

France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain have all signaled their readiness to consider withdrawal from the treaty.

Yamina Saheb, who worked on the ECT and is now campaigning for withdrawal from the treaty, said the main target of the legal action was the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism included in the treaty.

The legal action comes ahead of a European Parliament vote on Thursday, June 23, in which lawmakers will set out their red lines on ECT reform.

The ECT secretariat convened a special conference in Brussels on Friday bringing together its 52 signatories to reach a political agreement on a reform proposal.

Europe considers withdrawal from the Energy Charter Treaty

More EU member states have shown impatience with the ongoing reform of the Energy Charter Treaty, which critics say hampers International efforts to phase out fossil fuels.

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